Sometime in the past, an Indian team visited Norway and learnt their method of fishing.”

- P.R. Saijan, Trawl Boat Owner

Sometime in the past, an Indian team visited Norway and learnt their method of fishing.”

- P.R. Saijan, Trawl Boat Owner

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Plank canoes, called vanchis. Country crafts like dugout canoes (made of single wood), plank canoes (made of wooden planks sewn by coir), and catamarans (three to five logs tied with coir) were mainly used for fishing until the mid-twentieth century. These types of boats are still in use in Kerala. Image: NIFPHATT, Ernakulam

Traditional Fishing

In the mid-twentieth century, fisherfolk customarily caught fish for daily needs and dried whatever was left over, made fertiliser out of it, throw away, or buried the rest. The lives of the fisherfolk were difficult. The average fish landing for Kerala in the mid-century was around 1,81,000 tonnes. The Travancore state attempted to develop the fishing industry in the early twentieth century as part of its larger reformation policies. The government provided wood to fishermen for boat construction and cotton yarn for creating fishing nets. In 1938, freezing technology was introduced by installing a refrigeration plant. However, the modernisation efforts were neither widespread nor cutting-edge technology like those available in developed countries.

The Grow More Food Campaign

During the 1940s in India, due to World War II, famines, and British mismanagement, there was a severe shortage of food. To address this, the Grow More Food Programme was initiated and gained momentum after Independence. As part of this programme, a fish sub-committee was formed to organise fishing activities and adopt modern fishing techniques from marine countries in Europe and Scandinavia.

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A ‘Grow More Food’ campaign poster from India. Image: http://agropedia.iitk.ac.in
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The signing of the Indo-Norwegian Contract in 1953. Norway contributed the capital, equipment, and personnel for the implementation and the state and central governments paid for the local expenditure.

“The beginnings of the INP were in the second Five Year Project of India. After agriculture and milk production, the government of India turned towards the fishing sector.” …Varghese John, Marketing Officer, NIFPHATT

It was an era of India building technical ability in various fields from steel plants to IITs with international assistance. The Indo-Norwegian Project (INP) project came about because of a tripartite agreement between the UN, Norway, and India in 1952. INP was part of the UN Expanded Programme for Technical Assistance for post-war reconstruction and providing aid to newly independent developing countries.
The Norwegian government was looking for countries to share their fishing technology with, especially developing countries that could benefit from their technology.  The project was signed in New Delhi in January 1953.

The Indo-Norwegian Project (INP)

In total, five supplementary agreements were made with Norway during the project. A supplementary agreement was made in 1953 specifically for the development of fishing communities in the state of Travancore-Cochin. The project was started in Kerala because the state had existing fisherfolk villages and a long length of shoreline. This project had four main goals: (a) To help fishermen earn more. (b) To make sure fresh fish was distributed efficiently and improve fish products. (c) To better the health and sanitary conditions of people in the fishing communities. (d) To raise the overall quality of life in the project area.

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The first INP Director, Mr D.H. Lund and the first Indian Counterpart Official, Mr P.T. Koshy. Image: Souvenir: Issued on the Occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of The Integrated Fisheries Project, Cochin, India (1977)

INP at Kollam

The INP began in Neendakara, Sakthikulangara, and Puthenthura in Kollam. Two fishing communities on both sides of the Neendakara Project area, which covered about 25 square kilometres, were chosen. These communities had a combined population of around 12,000 people and approximately 400 fishing vessels. The villagers were poor but intelligent and fit the criteria of needing socio-economic development.

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The INP complex at Kollam. Image: Souvenir: Issued on the Occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of The Integrated Fisheries Project, Cochin, India (1977)
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This structure is one of the few remaining from the INP buildings at Sakthikulangara, 2023. The Neendakara bridge can be seen in the background. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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Water tank built for the INP. Image: NIFPHATT, Ernakulam

“The Indo-Norwegian project was about socio-economic development… It did not feel like an office, but a collective of people dedicated to providing value to fisherfolk’s lives.” … K. Ravinath, former deputy director, NIFPHATT

The INP started a pipe factory called Primo Pipes for the distribution of potable water and laid pipelines. Sanitary conditions in the villages were inspected and around 1,200 latrines were constructed.
Doctors and health practitioners were brought in from Norway and a health centre was established in Kollam. Children and pregnant women were counselled and trained midwives and nurses were sent on home visits. Medicines, milk powder, and vitamins were given away for free.
A staff at the hospital mentioned, “The hospital ran well when the Norwegians were here. There were specialists for children and women. Training and treatment were given for other diseases also.”

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Health Centre and Laboratory built for the INP. Image: NIFPHATT
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Newborn and Mother at the INP clinic. Image: NIFPHATT
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The Neendakara Taluk Hospital, earlier called the Foundation Hospital, was part of the INP. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

Development of Boats and Fishing Techniques at INP

The Indo-Norwegian Project transformed traditional boats (valloms) by mounting motors on them. Later, motorboats were constructed. Fishermen were given training for six months and more than 60 boats were built taking into account the breakers at the Kollam beach.
Shortly, mechanised boats were built with engines fitted inside the hull of the boat. These new types of boats had to be operated from small harbours or estuaries. Concurrently, fishing methods were developed including use of trawl nets. The trawling boats were different from the canoes that were in use until then. There was a cabin and a structure for the net behind the cabin.

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The fishing boat, I.N.P. 1, built for the Indo-Norwegian Project. Image: Souvenir: Issued on the Occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of the Integrated Fisheries Project, Cochin, India – October 1977
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Flying Fish, a trawling boat made as part of the INP. The metallic structure to haul the net can be seen behind the cabin. Image: NIFPHATT

Fishing activities at the INP

The fishing methods were modernised; instead of pulling the net by hand, winches and trawling were introduced allowing for offshore fishing. Boatmaking yards and a harbour were built. The fishermen in the project were provided with various financial options to buy the new boats. The cotton nets used were replaced with synthetic nets and supplementary gear was also developed over the years.

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The winch on an INP trawling boat. Image: NIFPHATT
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Boatbuilding yard established under the INP. Image: NIFPHATT
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Workshop facilities at the Indo-Norwegian Project. Image: NIFPHATT
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Synthetic nets were introduced and their manufacture and repair were taught to Indian fisherfolk. Image: Souvenir: Issued on the Occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of The Integrated Fisheries Project, Cochin, India (1977)
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Fish abroad an INP vessel. The INP boats were able to catch more fish than traditional fishing boats due to mechanisation and new fishing techniques. Image: NIFPHATT

Problems at Kollam

The INP attempted to introduce a fishing cooperative system in Kollam but encountered difficulties. Earlier, payment for the catch was done by the merchants when it suited them. With the motorised boats, the fishermen required working capital. Some boat owners established themselves as middlemen in the business, breaking traditional merchants’ monopoly.
The fishermen with canoes alleged that the sound of the motorised boats was driving away shoals. The sight of trawlers brimming with fish when the canoes could barely make enough for subsistence added to the hostility. There were several instances reported of 50–60 hostile canoes surrounding the new trawlers on their way back to the shore.
Moreover, conflicts of interest emerged between fishermen and fish merchants, INP representatives and fish merchants, and Nairs in administrative roles and Latin Catholic fishermen. Members of the Araya community struggled to adapt to the new fishing methods and sold their boats to the Latin Catholic fishermen in a few years.

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View from the Neendakara bridge during the INP. The harbour towards the left is Sakthikulangara. Image: NIFPHATT
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View from the Neendakara bridge at present. The left side of the bridge is Sakthikulangara and the right side is Neendakara. The stone structures on both sides are called mutti (or pullimutti) and are constructed to reduce the accumulation of sand in a fishing channel. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

“The ice factory there has been repurposed as a shark fin extraction unit” … Ravinath, former deputy director, NIFPHATT

When the INP was moved to Kochi, the buildings at Kollam were given over to the state government. Chitraranjen, a skilled labourer who works at the Kerala State Coastal Area Development Corporation which now owns the original INP office site, mentioned that when the building was being renovated in the recent past, the excavator could not break the base; rather the teeth of the machine broke. Hence, the new building was constructed on the existing base.

During INP, private entities entered the field of fish processing and export. One such company, Kerala Sea Foods, located near the Neendakara bridge still exists in the original location.

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View of the Neendakara Harbour from the mutti. Currently, Neendakara is one of the busiest and largest fishing harbours in Kerala. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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The base of the Kerala State Coastal Area Development Corporation Limited, Sakthikulangara is from the time of the Norwegians. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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Kerala Sea Foods was a private fish processing company started in 1963 and located next to the Neendakara harbour. Image: NIFPHATT
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Kings Retail at Neendakara, earlier known as Kerala Sea Foods, is still in existence in Neendakara. Image JANAL Archives, 2023

“The Norwegian techniques increased fish landings. There was excess fish, and to teach the fisherfolk how to handle this, the project was moved to Kochi where there was already a fishing research institute and harbour,” … Varghese John, Marketing Officer, NIFPHATT.

In April 1956, an agreement was signed to expand the project to Kochi. The idea was to conduct fishing experiments with bigger boats. The project was located in an existing fishing hamlet in Ernakulam. A modern, integrated fisheries complex was created. This involved introducing larger fishing vessels, establishing onshore facilities like ice plants and refrigeration units, creating maintenance infrastructure for large vessels, and organising marketing operations. The Kochi base focused on offshore fishing activities and conducted scientific studies on the area’s fishery resources.

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The Radio Telephone in use at the INP office. Image: Souvenir: Issued on the Occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of The Integrated Fisheries Project, Cochin, India (1977)
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The old radio telephone from the INP is still housed at NIFPHATT though it no longer works. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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Ice plant built for the project. Image: NIFPHATT
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Refrigeration Room for the project. Image: NIFPHATT
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Ammonia Compressor, part of the original ice plant built for INP at NIFPHATT, Kochi. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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Part of the refrigeration unit built for INP at NIFPHATT, Kochi. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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The vans seen towards the left of the picture were brought from Norway for the transportation of fish. Image: NIFPHATT
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Refrigerated vans made in India for the project. Image: NIFPHATT

“The dry docking and repair yard constructed during the INP is still working. The rails, the winch, and the dredging machine have been maintained and are in use in Ernakulam.” … Varghese John.

A dock was constructed at the Kochi office and the INP vessels started using this dock. The project also built a dry docking yard with a slipway to repair vessels. “The quality of the materials that the Indo-Norwegians used was excellent and the central government ensured that they were maintained,” said Varghese.
“Until the INP, there was no slipway here. The slipway at the Shipyard came later. The ships had to be lifted through some other difficult mechanism. The slipway at the INP had 250-tonne capacity with eight berths. It was shared with the fishing industry. It was useful for boat builders and boat owners at that time,” added Ravinath.

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A temporary dock was constructed behind the INP Kochi office which was later made permanent. Image: NIFPHATT
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The dock behind NIFPHATT. This dock is not used by NIFPHATT since they do not own any vessels at present. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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Slipway of the INP at Kochi in the past. Image: NIFPHATT
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The slipway built during the INP. The slipway is currently owned by the Fishery Survey of India and vessels are dry-docked for repairs here. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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The winch used at the slipway is from the time of the INP. Image: JANAL ARCHIVES, 2023
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The dredging machine brought by the Norwegians being used at the slipway in Kochi. Image: NIFPHATT
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The dredging machine from the time of the Norwegians is still working and used at the slipway. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

Did the INP build all the boats for the projects in India?

Not really. To support fisheries research, three Norwegian fishing schooners equipped with automatic pilots, radios, telephones, echo sounders, fish finders, and cold storage arrived in January 1955. The schooners surveyed the coastline from Cape Comorin to Kozhikode, collecting data on weather conditions, surface temperatures, currents, and fish availability. The knowledge and experience gained from this project led to its expansion, both in terms of its functions and geographic reach, in subsequent years.
In late 1956, four medium-sized boats known as M-Boats were brought from Norway to Kochi. These boats played a crucial role in training Indian fishermen and assessing the feasibility of fish and prawn trawling operations. Initially, Norwegian fishermen operated these boats, but as Indian fishermen gained expertise, the number of Norwegians on board decreased.

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M4 boat, one of the medium-sized boats (36 ft) brought from Norway to Kochi to train Indian fishermen and assess the feasibility of trawling. Image: NIFPHATT
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The First Indian Skipper in the INP, M. Shankarankutty. Image: Souvenir: Issued on the Occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of The Integrated Fisheries Project, Cochin, India (1977)

Research at Kochi

One of the schooners brought from Norway was converted into a fishing-cum-research vessel and conducted numerous research expeditions off the Malabar coast, including the Laccadive. It could accommodate a crew of 17, including four scientists. Three different laboratories were available on the ship: two analytical laboratories and one sampling laboratory. Additionally, there was a small room designated for fish processing. All laboratories were equipped with electric power and hot and cold water, with one laboratory having access to seawater.
“The size and shape of the boat is determined by the shore. The net used for demersal (bottom of the sea) fishing would be 1–2 km away. It is dragged through the bottom and if there is any rock, it may break the net or tilt the boat. The project did the necessary experiments and established which kind of boats needed what kind of net and gear. The establishment of ice factories, freezing plants, and processing units were also done under the expert opinion of the Norwegians,” said Ravinath.
“Pelagic fish are those that stay close to the surface of the water. Knowing the temperature was important because it would tell you at what temperature a particular kind of fish could be found,” added Ravinath.

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Kalava or perch trap was developed beacuse bottom trawling nets could not be used in certain sections of the ocean due to rock formations or obstacles that would tear the net. Image: NIFPHATT
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Varuna was the first and main research vessel of the INP. Image: NIFPHATT
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Kalava was the next boat to be built for research purposes after Varuna. Image: NIFPHATT
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Radio Telephone inside a research vessel. There were set times in a day during which the headquarters would call each vessel at a pre-arranged frequency. Image: NIFPHATT
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Inside a research vessel laboratory. The hot and cold water tap can be seen in the foreground towards the right. Image: NIFPHATT
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Measuring the ocean temperature was an important aspect of the pelagic survey. Image: NIFPHATT
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An unused thermometer left over from the INP at NIFPHATT. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

When did the INP start offices in other locations?

Units were started in Karwar (Karnataka), Kannur (Kerala), and Mandapam (Tamilnadu) in 1963. Sales units were started in Bengaluru and Chennai. When the agreement involving direct Norwegian involvement in the project ended in 1972, the other centres were handed over to the respective state governments.

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The INP office at Cochin (now Kochi). Image: Souvenir: Issued on the Occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of The Integrated Fisheries Project, Cochin, India (1977)
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The INP location at Karwar, Karnataka. Image: NIFPHATT
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The INP location at Mandapam, Tamilnadu. Image: NIFPHATT

“When the Norwegians left, the project was renamed the Integrated Fisheries Project by the director, Devidas Menon, since the project involved various kinds of activities.” … K. Ravinath, former deputy director, NIFPHATT

In 1972, the INP came to an end, and the headquarters at Ernakulam was handed over to the central government. With the implementation of the third supplementary agreement, the management of the Neendakara Project was transferred to the Kerala State Department of Fisheries.
Norway continued to support India’s fishing industry through the supply of equipment and expertise for further development of the fishing industry.
“The Integrated Fisheries Project had three divisions—Fish processing and marketing, experimental fishing and gear, and dry docking and repair. After the INP ended, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Norwegians, a survey of the pelagic (open sea) resources was undertaken for five years. The Integrated Fisheries Project did a comprehensive survey of the ocean from Goa to Cape Comorin. They even used helicopters to survey the flow of the fish shoals,” said Ravinath.

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Sardinella, one of the trawling vessels from the Integrated Fisheries Project was imported from Norway for pelagic fishing by the FAO. Image: NIFPHATT
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M. Devidas Menon (towards the left of the policeman) was the first Indian Director of the INP. In this picture, he is taking a visitor on a tour of a fishing vessel. Image: NIFPHATT

“In those days, the trawlers used to bring lots of fish…literally, in tonnes. These fish did not have value, especially, anchovies, pink perch, catfish, shark, and tuna.” … K. Ravinath, former deputy director, NIFPHATT

Ravinath mentioned that the fish was taken to the hinterlands like Thodupuzha and Kattapana in the past. He explained, “They did not fetch much money in the market. They were stockpiled in our storage. There was a limitation to how much could be sold through our stalls, hardly 300–400 people would buy from there; they would purchase 1–2 kg… So, the director, Devidas Menon, decided to diversify the selling process. The smaller fish were sorted, the bigger fish were cut, dried, and packed in half to one kg packets; and the fish was taken to places where it was needed or not available.

It was a great success. I accompanied my colleagues to the markets, and we used to announce using megaphones. We would demonstrate—fry the fish and eat in front of them; especially fish like the catfish which did not have acceptance in the market… We marketed it emphasising the vitamins and nutritious value.”

The fresh fish was sent in one truck and the processed fish was sent in another truck to far-off markets. A drier was installed just to preserve these fish.

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Anchovies and other catch from an INP trawler. Image: NIFPHATT
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Sorting and weighing fish at the project office. Image: NIFPHATT
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Fish processing at the Integrated Fisheries Project. Image: NIFPHATT
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Fish processed for canning. Image: NIFPHATT
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The entrance of one of the fisheries fairs held by the Integrated Fisheries Project. Image: NIFPHATT

“Exhibitions were held to develop awareness among the people about the project and the products… It was to create a need for the diverse products.” … K. Ravinath, former deputy director, NIFPHATT

In the initial years of the INP and the Integrated Fisheries Project, several exhibitions were held in the Kochi office and other locations in the city.
The other fisheries-related departments were invited to put up their stalls at these exhibitions. Machinery and equipment-making firms also had stalls showcasing their products used in the fishing industry.

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A display of various kinds of boats used for fishing at an exhibition. Image: NIFPHATT
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A stall dedicated to health in the exhibition. Image: NIFPHATT
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An early model of the trawl winch used in INP boats. Image: NIFPHATT
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Shellfish displayed at an exhibition. Lobsters were not much in demand in Kerala during the initial years of INP. These displays were part of the awareness and need creation among the population. Image: NIFPHATT

“It was a wonderful time. There would be parties for every occasion, Christmas Eve, and so on. They would invite us.” … K. Ravinath, former deputy director, NIFPHATT

When the Norwegians were in residence, they were given separate living quarters near the INP office in Kochi. The buildings are still in existence and used by NIFPHATT.
“It is said that the tapping sound could be heard when they danced on the wooden floor. When I joined, the floor had been replaced with mosaic and the current floor was laid recently,” said Varghese.

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The original INP living quarters are a Living Centre, Guest House, and Conference Facility for NIFPHATT staff. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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Inside the original INP living quarters. The building at the end used to be the quarters for the ayahs and drivers who worked for the Norwegians. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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This room on the ground floor of the INP guest house, Kochi functioned as a ballroom when the Norwegians were in residence. The light fixtures are from that time and brought from Norway. The floor used to be wood. The parties were either held in the ballroom of the guest house or the tennis court within the compound. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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This dilapidated building at the original INP complex at Sakthikulangara was a canteen and resting place for the workers. Currently, there is a fish drying and processing unit run by the Government of Kerala near this building. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

“There was no differentiation among the Norwegians regarding work,” Everyone pitched in to do whatever was required for the progress of the project.” … K. Ravinath, former deputy director, NIFPHATT

Varghese John mentioned that most of the children of the Norwegians used to study in places like Ooty. They would come to Kochi during vacations and programmes were arranged for them.
The Norwegians stayed for 2–3 years and returned to Norway after that period.
They were sent to India on deputation by the UN. A new person would arrive when an existing scientist or technician left. A few of the Norwegians passed away while in India. Their bodies were taken back after embalming. “The embalming process was a bit difficult because, in the 1960s and 70s, the process could be done only in a few places in India,” said Varghese.

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The Norwegians working in the INP took part in all the activities related to the project without differentiation. Image: NIFPHATT
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Norwegian children on a trip to Bolghatty Palace. Image: NIFPHATT
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Norwegian children and parents at a party in Kochi. Image: NIFPHATT
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The funeral procession of a Norwegian connected to the INP. Image: NIFPHATT
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The plaque commemorates the personnel who passed away during the project. The children of the Norwegians who worked in the project visit NIFPHATT and pay respect near the plaque even today. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

Trifurcation of the Integrated Fisheries Project

The three divisions of the Integrated Fisheries Project were divided into three separate divisions in the early twenty-first century. The central government decided to move the fishing vessels and fishing gear from the Integrated Fisheries Project to the Fishery Survey of India (FSI). Ravinath explained, “This was a political or bureaucratic decision taken at the centre.”
Some of the other processes were given over to the Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training (CIFNET). Thus, the Integrated Fisheries Project was divided into three departments—NIFPHATT, FSI, and CIFNET. The government directed the department to concentrate more on fish processing, post-harvest technology, and training. The name was changed to NIFPHATT in 2008. NIFPHATT has retained the original building at Kochi and some of the equipment.

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A model of the Kochi office during INP. The slipway and the buildings towards the left are now part of the FSI and those on the right belong to NIFPHATT. Image: NIFPHATT
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The Headquarters of the NIFPHATT at Ernakulam. NIFPHATT was earlier the INP headquarters in Kochi. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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The FSI complex is adjacent to NIFPHATT in Ernakulam. The FSI inherited the fishing vessels and the slipway from the INP. It is one of the agencies that supply raw materials to NIFPHATT. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023
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The NIFPHATT fish stall near the main office in Ernakulam. NIFPHATT has three fish stalls, a mobile unit, and dealers to market their products at present. Image: JANAL Archives, 2023

“The training calendar at the institute is pretty full throughout the year.” … Varghese John, Marketing Officer, NIFPHATT

NIFPHATT works under the Fisheries Ministry and does fish processing, testing, training, and marketing. Students who study food technology and fisheries-related courses are given hands-on training on product development and processing of fish products. “These students study the theory at college, but they do not get practical experience. Private industries will not allow the students in as there are industry secrets that they would not want to be made public knowledge. So, NIFPHATT steps in and provides the required training to students,” mentioned Varghese.
Fisherwomen are trained on-site and are also brought to the NIFPHATT office. NIFPHATT has connections with NGOs that bring in the fisherfolk for training. The idea is to make them self-sustainable. They are taught to convert the fish into a product instead of just selling it. If they can use, preserve, and market it adequately, the returns will be higher—that is the basic concept.


References

Gerhardsen, G.M. ‘The Indo-Norwegian Project’. Fisheries of the West Coast of India. Calicut: Central Marine Fisheries Research Station, 1 October 1958.
Gnanadoss, D.A.S, and B Krishnamurti. ‘The Concept and Philosophy of the Integrated Fisheries Project’. In Souvenir: Issued on the Occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of The Integrated Fisheries Project, Cochin, India. Kochi: Integrated Fisheries Project, 1977.
Klausen, Arne Martin. ‘Technical Assistance and Social Conflict: A Case Study from the Indo-Norwegian Fishing Project in Kerala, South India’. Sage Publications, Ltd. 1, no. 1 (1964): 5–18.
Kurien, John. ‘Technical Assistance Projects and Socio-Economic Change: Norwegian Intervention in Kerala’s Fisheries Development’. Economic and Political Weekly 20, no. 25/26 (22 June 1985): A70–88.
Menon, A. Sreedhara. Kerala District Gazetteers: Ernakulam. Trivandrum: Kerala Gazatteers, 1965.
Pillai, T.K. Velu. The Travancore State Manual. Vol. II. Trivandrum: The Government of Travancore, 1940.


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